EPIPHANY 2, C - January 20, 2013

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11 

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Is. 62:5 

Sunday, December 30 – three weeks ago today – was a day that I had so been looking forward to. On that day I would marry Jill Ireland to Joe Quatrocchi. A Sunday wedding and reception: how rare! I told Jill and Joe, and some of you, that I might just stay till midnight and close down the reception. After all, I didn’t have Services the next morning, so I could stay out as late as I wanted! How rare!

Well, the reception – held at a beautiful place in New Rochelle, NY – was rare, all right; rare in that it was quite unusual.

  • Upon entering, we were issued latex gloves and face masks. It’s flu season, after all!
  • The banquet room was then entered one at a time through a revolving door, as it was pressurized to keep germs out. In front of us as we entered was a large sign: WELCOME TO JOE & JILL’S RECEPTION. HAVE A GREAT TIME!
  • Finally, all over the place were staff with I-Pads in hand, carefully monitoring how much each person ate and drank to ensure that no one consumed too much.

HAVE A GREAT TIME! Well, I guess I’ll try.

It wasn’t all that different at the wedding feast Jesus attended in Cana. John tells us: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” Why so much water for purification? Because sins, like the flu virus, are everywhere. Every guest of that wedding would, upon entering, have the water of purification poured over his/her hands. Hey, even if you hadn’t done anything wrong, you might have brushed against a sinful Gentile at the market that day! Every bowl, plate, cup, and utensil used in the feast was first washed, and in a specific way, with the water of purification. Every piece of furniture was purified. Then, the water that remained was left there throughout the feast, just in case a guest said or did something inappropriate and needed to be purified. HAVE A GREAT TIME!

I assume you get my point here. Rules do not create love for God or bring joy in Him. Joe & Jill’s wedding reception wasn’t at all as I described it, of course. If it had been, I would have left early. But, the wedding feast Jesus attended was kind of like that. The rabbis taught the people that God would receive them if they were pure. So, they had water for purification everywhere. “Keep God’s laws and follow the prescribed rituals for cleansing,” they said, “and then you’ll be sure that God is pleased with you. You’ll be able to rejoice and enjoy life. You will have earned it!”

Jesus comes and changes all of this. He turned that water for purification into the best of wine. He did this so that the people’s joy might go on and increase, which, since the wine had run out, was not going to happen. And, in doing this He removed all of the water of purification. It was all turned into wine, and a great abundance of wine. The rule of the Law is over, and Jesus is now the way to purification. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” God rejoices over you!

But, how much? Is He a God who says, “Enjoy my blessings, but not too much”?

Many Christians think this way. Yes, Jesus died for your sins. Now, prove yourself worthy of Him! Be good and live that faith! Follow His rules!

Yes, do. But, you will never do so; at least, you will never do so well enough. Don’t ever think that your own goodness and obedience of God will bring you His love and favor, for then you will never have it. You will never know God’s joy. Look to Jesus, your heavenly bridegroom who rejoices over you!

God has given us His laws, and, yes, we must keep them. But, our Church’s confessions (the Apology to the Augsburg Confession) point out:
“Who loves or fears God enough? Who has enough patience to bear the troubles brought by God? Who does not frequently doubt whether human affairs are ruled by God’s counsel or by chance? Who does not frequently doubt whether he is heard by God? Who is not frequently enraged because the wicked enjoy a better life than the righteous, because the righteous are oppressed by the wicked? Who fulfills his own calling? Who loves his neighbor as himself? Who is not tempted by lust?... The flesh distrusts God, trusts in present things, seeks human aid in trouble, even contrary to God’s will. It flees from suffering, which it ought to bear because of God’s commands. It doubts God’s mercy and so on.”
And so, God’s Law always accuses us. It always says, “You could do better. You could do more.” We need something else, someone else, to free us to see God as love, to receive His love, and to rejoice in His love. That someone is Jesus, God’s love come to us.

By His first miracle Jesus announces that He is God’s love come to us to take us to Himself. By turning water into wine and providing the best wine for the wedding feast – which was the responsibility of the bridegroom – He proclaims Himself to be our bridegroom. He comes to us, not with laws that restrict and bind, but with a love and forgiveness that receives and frees. The apostle Paul – a Jewish man who was trained in God’s laws and all the rituals for purification – learned this well. He says in Romans 7:
“Do you not know that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage… You have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
Paul speaks as if there are two Jesus’s: the One who bore our sins and died under God’s Law and the one who rose from the dead and was no longer bound by the Law. Well, we have both in Jesus. He came in love to bind us to Himself in marriage. His first miracle, of turning water into wine and assuming the role of the bridegroom, announces this. He binds Himself to us first under the Law by binding us as sinners to Himself. On the cross He dies for our sins and bears the burden of their curse, God’s hatred of them and punishment of them. Romans 7 says that when He died, that marriage under the Law ended. We’re now “released from the Law.” Jesus shows this by filling up the six stone water jars for purification and changing them completely into wine, the drink of joy. There’s no water for purification left! The Law has ended! We’re no longer guilty, no longer accused, no longer burdened! When He rose on the 3rd day, He raised us with Him to “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” We have a new marriage and a new life in the Jesus who rose in triumph over sin and death. We now serve Him gladly and freely, because we know He loves us.

Think of it this way: at Joe and Jill’s wedding feast, there were no gloves and masks; no revolving door; no staff monitoring how much we ate and drank. There were great hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, and bottles of wine on the table. I was free to enjoy myself and indulge as much as I wanted! Did I overindulge? Did I drink myself into unconsciousness? Of course not. That would dishonor the two people who were giving the wonderful feast, and who were honored in it!

So, for us now in Christ, of course we serve Him and seek to keep God’s Law. But, we do so out of love for Him and to honor Him. Even though we sin, His Law no longer condemns us, for in Christ we have God’s love. We are His bride whom He loves! Go forth to love in that love, in Christ’s joy, to the glory and praise of His name! Amen.